top of page

Getting Started with Dog Agility: Training, Equipment, and Safety Considerations

Updated: May 21


Dog doing agility jumping over a hurdle

Dog agility is a dynamic sport that brings together the excitement of obstacle courses while actively playing with your dog. It typically involves the dog running a course composed of obstacles such as jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and more and whether you’re a competitor or just looking to have some fun, dog agility offers a wide range of benefits for both you and your dog.

Always consult your physician and veterinarian before any strenuous and/or high-risk activities. This content is not medical advice and should not replace consultation with a physician or veterinarian.

Benefits of Dog Agility


Whether you're visiting a dog agility course, or setting one up at your house, there are many benefits to be gained from a dog agility course. For one, it's great for unleashing your dog's physical fitness. They also offer mental stimulation for both you and your dog, so in addition to physical exercise, your dog's brain will also be getting a workout.


Dog doing agility on a controlled outdoor course

Physical Fitness

Dog agility requires your dog to be physically fit and agile and it encourages them to use their body in a variety of ways, including jumping over hurdles, running through tunnels, and weaving around poles. Additionally, as your dog gets used to the obstacles they'll build up their coordination, balance and strength.

Mental Stimulation

Requires focus on the task at hand and improves obedience skills. Plus, the process of learning commands and navigating through an agility course helps to keep your dog’s mind sharp.

Confidence Boost

As your dog progresses in agility training, they'll become more confident and self-assured. This can help shy or anxious dogs come out of their shells and build trust with their owners.

Socialization

Agility allows your dog to meet other dogs and people in a safe, controlled environment, which will help them become more comfortable with strangers as well as make new friends.

Energy Outlet

Many dogs have a natural instinct towards physical activities, and by providing them with a structured and safe environment to release that energy, you can prevent unwanted behaviors such as chewing, digging, and excessive barking.

Fun

Above all else, dog agility is just plain fun! It’s a great way for both you and your dog to get some fresh air and exercise, while having a blast.



 

Preparing for a Visit to a Dog Agility Course


Dog doing agility in a course
Snoopy putting me through the paces!

If you're planning to take your dog to a dog agility course, it's important to do your homework beforehand to ensure that the course has the appropriate equipment for your dog. Agility courses offer a range of obstacles, including tunnels, jumps, weave poles, hurdles, and more. To keep your dog safe and comfortable, it's crucial to make sure they can easily navigate through tunnels and jump over hurdles without any concerns of injury or getting trapped. If needed, you can request that the course make adjustments to the size of the obstacles to accommodate your dog's size and/or abilities.


As you head out, remember to pack the essentials. It's also important to consider your dog's physical abilities and adhere to recommended safety procedures. Furthermore, it's essential to be aware of your dog's behavior around other dogs and ensure they have the training basics down.


Recommended Gear


When heading to a dog agility course, certain gear is essential for both you and your dog's safety and comfort. Here are some items that should be on your packing list (not an exhaustive list, just a start):


Water and Food

Treats

Harness, Leash, & ID

Comfy Shoes for You

Sun Protection

First Aid Kit

Dog Toy(s)


Safety Tips

Dog going through an agility tunnel


  • Always warm up your dog before beginning the course to prevent any muscle injuries or strains; a brisk walk to slow jog works well

  • Keep an eye on your dog for any signs of fatigue or discomfort; it's important not to push them beyond their limits

  • Stay hydrated

  • Make sure all obstacles are secure and properly set up before allowing your dog to use them; shake them if need be

  • Be mindful of other dogs and their handlers at the course

  • Always ask for permission before letting your dog interact with others or using an obstacle that is being occupied by another team

  • Always clean up after your dog


If your dog has any preexisting health conditions or injuries, it's important to consult with a veterinarian beforehand to ensure that they are fit for the activity. Additionally, make sure that your dog is up-to-date on all necessary vaccinations and flea/tick prevention before entering a communal space.


Training Tips


Woman training her dog

Start with basic obedience training before beginning agility training as this will ensure your dog understands and follows their basic commands (read more about basic commands here). We recommend positive reinforcement training to establish essential commands like sit, stay, come, down, and leave-it. Adding in behavioral training can help with more advanced commands like weaving, jumping, and tunnel running.


Starting with basic agility exercises is essential for building the foundation of skills necessary for more difficult maneuvers. Playing fetch, tug-of-war and hide-and-seek are great ways to introduce the concept of agility movement to your dog.


If your dog has a history of aggression or reactivity towards other animals, it may not be suitable for them to participate in a group agility course setting. In this case, consider finding a private agility course or working one-on-one with a trainer to ensure the safety and comfort of all participants.



 

Training Your Dog for Agility



Dog agility training is a combination of teamwork, speed, and skill and it's important to remember that a dog agility course is not just about completing obstacles, but also about strengthening the bond between you and your dog. Therefore, it's important to establish clear communication with your dog and practice commands before your visit. It's also important to note here that your dog will probably not be a pro overnight. It takes lots of practice (and patience).


Creating an agility course in your backyard or joining an agility club will help build muscle memory and further develop skills such as speed and accuracy. As with any type of training, consistency is key — practice regularly so that your dog feels comfortable with each obstacle. Once on the course and to maintain interest and motivation, it's important to mix up the training routine for your dog. Don't always follow the same course or use the same obstacles in the same order. This can help keep your dog engaged and challenged.


There are a variety of obstacles that can be found at a dog agility course, each one designed to test the speed, agility, and accuracy of both the dog and their handler. Some common obstacles include:



Jumps


Dog jumping over a bar in an agility course

These are the most basic obstacle in an agility course. A standard jump consists of a horizontal bar placed between two uprights, which can be adjusted to different heights. There are also various types of jumps, such as the tire jump, which is a circular hoop that the dog must jump through, and the long jump or spread jump, which consists of two or more bars set at different distances.


Training for these jumps should begin with simple, low hurdles and gradually increase in height. It's important to teach your dog to approach the jump from a straight line and to jump cleanly over without knocking down the bar. This can be achieved through positive reinforcement techniques such as using treats or toys as rewards.


Tunnels


Tunnels are another common obstacle and come in different shapes and sizes (pretty easy to find online for home courses too). The most basic form is a straight tunnel, which is simply a long fabric or plastic tube that the dog must run through. There are also curved tunnels, collapsible tunnels, and even "chute" tunnels that narrow at one end.



Training for tunnels should begin with teaching your dog to enter and exit the tunnel on command. This can be done by using treats or toys as rewards with a shortened tunnel. Once they get the hang of it, you can gradually increase the length of the tunnel.


A-Frames


Dog running down an a-frame at an agility park

A-frames consist of two ramps connected by a narrow platform (looking at them from the side resembles the shape of an A). Dogs must go up one side and then descend the other. Some tips would be to start with a lowered A-frame and gradually increase the height, using treats or toys as motivation.


See-Saws


The see-saw is another agility obstacle that tests a dog's balance. It consists of a long plank that pivots in the middle. The dog must walk up one side, causing it to tip, and then walk down the other side (or run!).


To train your dog for the see-saw, you can start by teaching them to walk on a lowered plank (basically start it flat on the ground) and gradually increase the height. It's important to teach them to hit the contact zones at each end so they don't jump off prematurely. Positive reinforcement techniques such as treats or verbal praise can be used to encourage your dog to stay on the see-saw until it reaches the ground.


Weave Poles


Dog running through weave poles at a dog agility course

The weave poles are one of the most challenging obstacles for dogs (especially for me to train my dogs on). They consist of a line of upright poles that the dog must weave in and out of, while maintaining their speed and focus.


Training for the weave poles should begin with teaching your dog to enter and exit the poles from either side. This can be done by using treats or toys as rewards, and gradually decreasing the distance between the poles. Once your dog is comfortable with this, you can gradually increase the difficulty by adding more poles and asking them to weave in and out at a faster pace.


Pause Table


This obstacle allows the dog to take a brief break during the course. It consists of a raised platform where the dog must stop and stay for a designated amount of time before continuing on with the course.



Some tips would be to first introduce your dog to the table and teach them to jump on it. Once they are comfortable with that, you can add the "wait" command and gradually increase the amount of time they must stay on the table before continuing.


Contact Obstacles


These are obstacles that have specific contact zones. Dogs must touch these zones with at least one paw to ensure they have completed the obstacle safely. Training for contact obstacles requires teaching your dog to hit the designated contact zones correctly. This can be achieved through positive reinforcement techniques, using treats or toys as rewards when they successfully touch the zone with their paw. You can start with basic hand touch techniques and graduate to the actual obstacle(s).


Combination Obstacles

These are obstacles that combine two or more of the above obstacles, such as a jump followed by a tunnel. These tests the dog's ability to quickly switch from one obstacle to another and maintain their speed and focus.



To train for combination obstacles, it's important to first ensure your dog is proficient at each individual obstacle before putting them together in a sequence. Start with simple combinations and gradually increase the difficulty as your dog becomes more confident and skilled.


 

Making Your Own Course at Home


Dog jumping trough a homemade agility obstacle

When it comes to setting up an agility course at home for your dog, you'll need the right equipment. As discussed above, there are a variety of obstacles and most can be purchased for home use, or better yet, constructed yourself. When selecting these obstacles, make sure they are sturdy and designed for safety in mind. Unfortunately, there are a lot of cheapy items available at big box e-commerce sites (read the reviews!).


Sizing the Equipment for Your Dog


It’s important to consider the size of the equipment when setting up your course. Make sure that your dog can comfortably fit through tunnels and jump over hurdles without any risk of getting hurt or stuck in them. If necessary, adjust the size of obstacles to suit your dog's individual abilities.


Safety Considerations


Please always consider safety when setting up an agility course for your dog. Ensure there are no sharp edges, and make sure objects do not move or wabble around during use. Place the equipment in a safe area free from hazards to avoid any accidents while your dog is running the course.


Turn Exercise Into Fun With Dog Agility



Get active and have fun with your pup by trying out a dog agility course. This exciting sport offers numerous health benefits for both you and your dog and whether you're competing or enjoying it at home, agility is the perfect activity for any dog-human duo wanting to stay active together. Follow the best practices mentioned above, and use patience, positive reinforcement, and regular training to guide your dog through their agility journey. With time, practice and determination, you'll be sure to have a blast together! So why wait? Grab your dog's favorite toy or treat and head on over to a dog agility course today!


Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting a Dog Agility Course

Q: Is my dog too old to start agility training?

Q: Can my puppy participate in agility training?

Q: Do I need any special equipment for agility training?

Q: My dog is afraid of certain obstacles, what should I do?


 

Check Out More Exciting Adventures


Dog surfing

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read this article on agility! We hope you've enjoyed it and got some more info on starting agility training! This is just one of the many outdoor dog adventures we write about. Check out our full guide online:



Comments


Stay in the Loop

Don't miss out on the latest news and discounts from Fetch the Sun! Sign up for our mailing list today to stay up-to-date on all our new blog posts, special offers, and more. We promise not to flood your inbox - just occasional updates you won't want to miss.